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Compleat ConMisterio Coverage

Wednesday, July 26, 2006
You can read all about ConMisterio here:


Some other notes that don't fit anywhere else:

Here's a photo of newlyweds Megan and Jeff Abbott.

Note: not actually married... yet.

Bill Crider on Michael Avallone: "He could sure tell a story. He couldn't write, but he could sure tell a story."

Duane Swierczynski's favorite noir movie? Robocop.

James Crumley: "'Phoenix' does not spell 'phonics'."

And one quick story about Steven Torres. After the "What you should go back and read" panel, he managed to outrun me to the last copy of Howard Browne's The Taste Of Ashes in the dealer room. But he was nice enough to let me read it, then mail it back to him.

I had to decline. I was afraid my 2-year-old would autograph it in red marker. But Steven's a great guy nonetheless.

posted by Graham Powell at 1:03 PM

ConMisterio: Sunday

Tuesday, July 25, 2006
The convention was starting to wind down by Sunday, as many of the Yankees had early flights, and I myself had to hit the road back to Fort Worth after lunch. But that didn't get in the way of a good time, starting with the first panel, "Music to die for."

Which turned into an impromptu jam, with former punk-rocker Jesse Sublett, Ramble House proprietor Fender Tucker, and Dennis Macmillan. Now I knew that Jesse was a musician, but I was shocked to discover that Fender is a GREAT blues player, and Dennis is a GREAT flamenco guitarist.

Fender and Jesse.


For once, Bill Crider had some competition for best line. He pointed out that Fender's amp was personalized (it read FENDER across the front), but Jesse later remarked that he "wished his lawn was Emo, so it would cut itself."

They played for most of the hour, loud enough so the organizers had to come in and tell them to keep it down. When they weren't playing, they talked about great crime songs like "Stagger Lee" and "Hey Joe".

(Bill Crider has footage of this here, here, here, and here.)

The last panel was Bill, Neil Smith, and Susan Smily talking about writing and working in education. Bill said he always felt like he was getting away with something - his workday was over by noon, and he travelled to the Bouchercon "conference" on the school's travel budget. Neil turned this around by pointing out that when he got his current job, he applied for 70 positions and received one offer. Not sure what this says about their relative levels of skill and intelligence (not to mention charm and good looks).

Neil wore an appropriate shirt, considering that his latest book is The Drummer.

He's hardcore.

And that was it. I shook hands, said my goodbyes, and left for home. It was a great convention, and I hope to make it back next year.

posted by Graham Powell at 10:55 AM

ConMisterio: Saturday

Before I forget: I owe Carl Brookins a big debt of thanks. At dinner Friday night they passed the hat to pay the check, and all I had was a credit card. He covered for me, and though I payed him back later - thanks, Carl.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early - it was almost a shame I missed it. I slept in and lazed around, and didn't make it out for breakfast until 9:30 (VERY late by my standards). So as I was sitting there in the lobby eating a Danish, I thought to myself, Where are all the people? The place was deserted. So I got out my handy-dandy schedule and discovered that the panels started at nine.

So I blundered into the "Writing about home away from home" panel half an hour late, and promptly made an ass of myself by asking a question that had been answered in my absence. After that I thought it best to keep quiet until I slunk away to the ten o'clock panel.

In which Sean Doolittle, Megan Abbott, and Jonathan Santlofer talked about women writing crime.

Megan pretty much whipped their asses.

After that, it was off to the ballroom to watch three Texans brag. Harry Hunsicker, Bill Crider, and Jesse Sublett talked about Texas Noir.

Among other things, I learned that Jim Thompson grew up in Fort Worth, where he went to high school while working at a local hotel as a night bellhop. His duties there included procuring booze, drugs, and women for the guests, with occasional side gigs as a gigolo.

After lunch in the hotel cafe with The Usual Suspects, I headed to the obligatory Poetry panel. Of particular note was James Crumley's better half, Martha.

Someone mentioned that if you want to be poor, be a writer, but if you want to be destitute, be a poet, which prompted Reed Coleman to recall that when he took poetry in college, Alan Ginsberg and John Ashbery were on the faculty. Two of the greatest Twentieth-century American poets were supporting themselves by teaching.

Reed's shirt pimps his book.

Next up was Libby Fischer Hellman, who talked about her Ellie Foreman novels, here next book (a private eye novel spun off from the Foreman series), and then read from a short story with a somewhat different protagonist - a female hitman.

Then a little deja vu: The "Damn Near Dead Again" panel. Bill Crider got off the best line when he remarked that the western Rio Bravo had something for everyone: "When I was younger, I identified with Ricky Nelson. When I got a little older I identified with Dean Martin. Then I identified with John Wayne. Now I identify with Walter Brennan!"

Last panel of the day was a reading by the Unofficial New York Crime Writer's League - Wallace Stroby, Jonathan Santlofer, Reed Coleman, and Megan Abbott.

The ubiquitous Judy was also there. I kept forgetting her name, until I settled on the mnemonic "Judy BabaLouie".

Judy Bobalik

I was a little disappointed with the banquet. For starters, I was the only one who dressed up (my new red tie was particularly sharp), then some of the younger crowd decided to ditch:

So long, suckers!

Bill Crider turned out to be an excellent choice as toastmaster, though, giving a very funny speech. Did you know he was James Crumley's cousin? He sat at the table next to me with Jan Grape and Richard Moore.

Afterwards Lee Billings and I wandered around for a while looking for something to do - even the hotel bar was dead - until we ended up in the hospitality suite.

And that was a bit of luck, because Bryan Barrett, Bill Crider, and Richard Moore were up there talking books. I am a book geek, but if I live to be a hundred I'll never be half the book geek that those guys are. At one point I mentioned Richard Sale, the only pulp author who went to Washington & Lee University (my alma mater), and Richard said, no, that Elliot Chaze (author of Black Wings Has My Angel) also went to W&L. Not only that, but they attended at the same time, and must have known each other.

I also learned why most Gold Medal paperbacks are not particularly valuable: they literally printed a million copies of each title.

So I sat there until midnight listening to those guys, then we all staggered off to our rooms.

posted by Graham Powell at 10:06 AM

ConMisterio: Friday

Tuesday, July 18, 2006
The program on Friday didn't start until ten, so I had the luxury of sleeping in for a change. There was another convention at the Doubletree - public school teachers or something like that - so while munching on a Danish I had the chance to see the future governer of Texas, Kinky Friedman, holding forth to a small knot of journalists. Someone invited him to stay for the convention, but his handlers shook their heads gravely and whisked him away.

The first person I saw in the lobby was Steven Torres, author of the Precinct Puerto Rico novels and a series of short stories about Russian mercenary Viktor Petrenko.

We shot the bull for a few minutes and Bill Crider showed up with a new toy: a video camera about the size and shape of an iPod. He did a quick interview with us and he and Steven posed for a photo:

After that I headed over to the dealer room for a quick look before the first panel. One dealer I didn't expect to see: Ramble House, from my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. For about five years I lived just a few blocks from the Ramble House house.

Proprietor Fender Tucker was there and we had a nice chat. I looked over some of his beautiful handmake books, as well as his massive catalog of Harry Stephen Keeler books.

Unfortunate lens glare - or angel on his shoulder?

I was checking out Murder By The Book's table when someone said, "Graham?" Surprise, surprise, it was Duane Swierczynski, and he recognized me.

Take my picture, and I gut you with this pen.

Duane is a BIG guy, not big and lumpy like me, but more of a squared-away linebacker's physique. In fact, he reminded me of another familiar mystery figure:

After that was the first panel, "Is Hardboiled Hip?", with Duane, Reed Farrel Coleman, Bruce Cook, and Anthony Neil Smith.

Neil and Bruce.

Duane talks so fast, he can do an hour-long panel in only 15 minutes. So fast, in fact, that I thought he said the title of his current book was The Mailman.

After a bit of haggling among the panelists, it was decided that "hip" meant something new, on the way up, that hadn't hit the mainstream yet. Stories not meant for the mass market, but for the niche market (or as Reed called it, the "neesh" market).

I asked they panel if they'd rather be hip, or sell out, and the response was immediate and unanimous: "SELL OUT!"

After that I went next door to "What You Should Go Back And Read", with Scott Cupp, L.A. Starks, Bill Crider, Richard Moore, and Bryan Barret.

The usual suspects.

The panel turned into a discussion of old paperbacks pretty quickly, with suggestions such as Jim Thompson and Donald Hamilton, then touched on some more obscure authors such as Ralph Dennis and E. Richard Johnson. Scott Cupp was the most popular man in the room, as he brought a stack of books to give away:

I myself made off with Mongo's Back In Town.

After that it was lunchtime, which I spent shopping in the dealer room. I consider it a sign of good character that I spent over $100 on books, but when I saw the prices in the cafe I said, "Ten bucks for a hamburger? Screw that!" and bought a honeybun from the gift shop.

I did get a chance to talk with Megan Abbott for a few minutes. Abbott is the author of Die A Little a rather dark tale set in the 1950s and using some of the storytelling styles of that era - bent to her own designs, of course.

Speaking of which, Megan is a from New York, has written a mystery set in the Fifties that uses Fifties storytelling conventions... has anyone ever seen her and Sara Gran in the same room?

Add to this the fact that Megan says that someone who had actually met them both got them confused, and yeah, they're the same person.

The one o'clock panel was a discussion of the new anthology Damn Near Dead, brainchild of Duane Sweirczynski and David Thompson of Busted Flush Press. Like most good ideas, they came up with this one over a couple of beers. I understand they plied many of the contributors with alcohol, as well.

David and Duane.

David revealed that the first spark for this was a trip to a nursing home, where he saw many people basically cast loose from society the way the Eskimos send their elderly off on an ice flow. As these seniors had nothing to lose, he came up with the idea of a rampaging gang of oldsters - "Cocoon meets the Wild Bunch", as he put it.

James Crumley had a senior moment of his own when preparing the introduction. While reading the stories he wondered what was up with all the cranky old folks - until his wife pointed out the title of the anthology. So, that explained that.

Between the panels I ran into a couple of people from here and there. Mark Troy was on hand, and reports that he his second Val Lyon novel is completed and out making the rounds.

Pari Noskin Taichert from Murderati was there, too. She doesn't look anything like her author photo:

They were both on the next panel with Libby Fischer Hellman (from The Outfit). The subject was thrillers, and how they differ from mysteries. The upshot: It's all a matter of degree! Thanks for the insight, fellas.

The last panel of the day (for me) was "What caliber do you recommend?", with Jonathan Santlofer, Wallace Stroby, and Reed Coleman. If these guys had been from Texas, the conversation would have been, "Well, I prefer a .270 myself. How about you, Bart?" "I like something a little heavier, like a .30-06. And in a handgun I use a .44 Magnum, of course."

Wallace and Reed.

But instead we got three guys from greater New York City, so they talked about violence in mysteries. And since they didn't need the microphone to be heard, Reed used it for his famous Subway Conductor impression.

At each of the conventions I've been to, there was one guy whose name I'd never even heard before who turned out to be as interesting as anyone preset. At the Austin Bouchercon it was Eddie Muller; this time it was Jonathan Santlofer. Originally an artist, he got into writing through a rather unfortunate circumstance: the museum hosting a retrospective of his art burned to the ground, destroying his life's work. After that he found he couldn't paint, so he turned to writing instead.

Wallace Stroby was pretty interesting as well. I had a chance to talk to him later when he sat next to me in the bar, and I'll be damned if I could think of a single thing to say, so we just sat there. I got up to play a couple of songs on the jukebox, and when I got back he was gone, leaving me feeling like a total jerk.

After a brief reception, where I was shocked to discover food with no meat in it! This is Texas, people! we headed off to dinner, at a place called County Line Barbecue in west Austin. What do you think the leading lights of the mystery world spent the whole time talking about? Television. Specifically, HBO's Deadwood, which I have never seen, so I had no clue. As usual.

After dinner I was pretty tuckered, so I headed off to get some sleep.

posted by Graham Powell at 5:59 PM

ConMisterio: Thursday

I rolled into Austin at about 4pm on Thursday and immediately headed down to the bar. ConMisterio didn't officially start until the following morning, but I figured I could catch up with a few of the attendees there.

I was deeply, deeply disappointed. I sat there nursing a series of beers by myself for nearly an hour and a half. How can you be so slack you can't make it to the bar?

Finally a woman came and sat down at a nearby table. I thought she sort of looked like a convention goer, and struck up a conversation. Turned out her name was Lee Billings and she was indeed there for the con. A few minutes later we were joined by Laura Elvebak, past president of the Southwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. After a while Lee headed off to the dealer room and Laura and I started out for Mama Ninfa's Mexican restaurant and the Offically Unofficial kickoff dinner.

As we were getting up to leave, I noticed a familiar group ahead of us. Sean, Neil, and Victor had finally decided to put in an appearance. Since Laura knew where the restaurant was, they climbed into their badass PT Cruiser and followed us.

If took us fifteen minutes to ditch the Three Losers, so we were late and didn't get a place at the main table. I did get a change to meet Bill Crider face to face, and the legendary James Crumley passed by so close I could see the food stuck to his shirt.

After a plate of tamales we made our way back to the hotel. I was pretty tired and the place was dead, so after a few minutes I decided to call it a night.

posted by Graham Powell at 5:47 PM

Death In Small Doses

Monday, July 10, 2006
The song says that short people ain't got nobody to love, but I love short people, and I especially love their stories. So let's get to it:

* I managed to miss the most recent issue of ThugLit, but I have signed up for their mailing list so it will Never Happen Again. Here's the contents of the May/June issue:

"The History Channel", by Charlie Stella

"A Moment's Regret", by Ron Klosterman

"Courtesy Call", by Justin Gustainis

"Family Connections", by H. Kim Lee

"All The Beautiful Things", by Barbara Stanley

"Sweet Benny And The Sanchez Penitentiary Band", by B.H. Shepherd

"Laetrile", by Ed Lynskey

"Trim", by Vinnie Penn

"For Sarah", by Mike MacLean

"A Hog's Dinner", by Johnny Bassoff

As usual, a few writers I've heard of (Charlie Stella, Ed Lynskey, Mike MacLean) plus a few who are new to me. Check it out.

* I haven't heard anyone pushing this but Lee Goldberg, but the short story program has stories by some terrific writers, each for only forty-nine cents. That's a whole anthology for only ten bucks. I still have a few problems with it - for example, there's no way to create or share "playlists" - but it's a great idea. Their index of mystery stories is here. Authors include Goldberg, Jeffrey Deaver, James Lee Burke - you get the idea.

* From James Reasoner and Bill Crider comes news of the new anthology Retro Pulp Tales, edited by Joe R. Lansdale. I haven't seen a copy yet, but by all accounts this is like flipping through a few old pulp titles from the 1930s - a little Amazing, a few Weird Tales, etc. Available only from the Subterranean Press.

posted by Graham Powell at 10:35 AM